Nephi grieved from the depths of his heart:
My heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. (2 Nephi 4:17)
Can you feel Nephi’s pain? He was not merely saddened by his errors, he was grieving his humanness. He was sorrowing for his sins. And he felt bound to them and bounded by them. He hated the fetters of sin!
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. (2 Nephi 4:18)
As much as Nephi loved God, his rejoicing felt inauthentic when his life was so riddled with error, weakness—let’s use the word: sin.
And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; (2 Nephi 4:19)
Nephi poignantly poses the questions that burden earnest seekers of goodness. Why can’t I overcome sin? Why, when I know so much and try so hard, does it continue to bedevil me? Why aren’t I better than I am when He helps me as much as He does?
His whole soul cried out. His spirit yearned to be set free of the exhausting gravity of frailty, imperfection, weakness, lack of resolve—there it is again: sin.
We may be tempted to soften Nephi’s point by imagining that his sins were quite different from ours. He does not enumerate or detail his sins and we should probably not speculate about them. Yet I think Nephi would be offended if we dulled his point by blunting his message. He said that he sinned. And he knew that sin offended God and burdened his soul.
Nephi jumped right from the question to his post-answer rejoicing with a mere acknowledgment of Christ:
Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
Nephi’s relationship with and experience of Jesus was so great that he turned on a dime. He went from grieving to rejoicing with the utterance of the magical key. He did not give us the formula, the background, the process. He simply launched from earth to heaven. We are left amazed by the change without knowing the process.
In my view, that process was detailed almost a millennium later as part of the Book of Mormon benediction. In a wise and inspired note, Moroni revealed the divine process with elegant precision. As spokesman for Jesus, he said:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. (Ether 12:27)
Most of us feel that we don’t need that kind of help. There are already plenty of people (including we ourselves) who are willing to elaborate on our weakness. Yet there is something extraordinary about the way Jesus does that. He invites us to bring our weakness to Him so He can remove it. He doesn’t see us evaluatively but redemptively.Moroni continued to deliver Jesus’ invitation:
I give unto men weakness that they may be humble;
Weakness is heavenly-designed! Given heaven’s hatred of imperfection, there must be a good reason to provide it; Heaven must place unbelievable value on humility! Maybe humility is the gate to redemption.
My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me;
There is the magical combination: our humility and His grace! When we set aside our preferences, our agenda, our demands and come to Him with open minds and hearts, He does magic.
For if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Wow. By recognizing our dependence on Him and by showing our trust in Him, we open the door to becoming strong. Suddenly we understand the Lord’s baffling message to Paul:
My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9, emphasis added)
When we recognize and acknowledge our weakness, our dependence, Jesus can make us strong. Suddenly self-sufficiency dissolves. In its place comes confidence in the presence of God (See D&C 121:45).
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Let’s be sure we understand Nephi, Moroni, and Paul’s message to us: Weakness is the inheritance of mortals. You will sin. Since you care about spiritual things, you will be burdened by sin and weakness. You will hate them. But be careful. Don’t try to set yourself right. Don’t stay away from Him because of oppressive guilt. Only One can remove sin and guilt. Turn to Him. Run to Him! And, in perfect tranquility, trust Him to carry you toward becoming “a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
This is where faith becomes very real. Do I believe that He wants to save me? Do I believe that He does love me in spite of my persistent mistakes? Do I believe that He will embrace me and sustain me and lead me to an ever-better life? Do I believe that He has an exalted view of my ultimate place?
So the question is not whether we will sin. We will sin. The question is whether we, having resisted sin the best we can, will gladly come to Christ. He can—and gladly will—cleanse our souls, grant meaning to our lives, wipe away our tears, fill our lives with growth, and award us Eternity. That is Moroni’s answer to Nephi’s question.
Questions to ponder:
Have you noticed that, after sinning, you sometimes feel dry, empty, and confused? Have you also noticed that, as quickly as you throw yourself on the merits, mercy, and grace of Christ, that you feel lightened, refreshed, and hopeful? We may feel even better than before we sinned—because our weakness led us to much-needed humility. Usually this does not happen once-for-all. We must go back to Him in humility time and again.
What sins have I committed in the last week, day, or hour? Have I taken them to Christ so that they can be transformed into growth? Or have I allowed my spiritual house to become littered with sin mites that I try to ignore but which ultimately rob me of joy and growth?
Sin and weakness serve God’s purpose when they send us back to Him, humble and earnest. Am I ready to round up my forgotten sins and general weakness and take them to Christ? Will I allow Him to take me to the next level of discipleship?
Rather than getting discouraged with any past efforts at self-improvement, am I willing to call on Him more earnestly forever knowing that only He can save me?